I have a pair of toys — a purple ball and a yellow ball — squished into my sock drawer. I hate them. I hate them so much.

But I also love them — at least, I used to love them. This pair of bouncy balls — just bigger than a softball, but light and squishy — have been in our house for just a couple of days, but in that short time they’ve brought out a range of emotions.

They came home with us from my nephew’s birthday party. They weren’t supposed to, as they were sitting inside an arcade game, the kind of game with the big metal claw that drops down into the bin of toys and makes a half-hearted attempt to grab something before dropping nothing but air into the prize chute.

I hate that claw.

My daughter had some tokens and wished she could play that game to win one of the brightly colored plastic balls inside, but alas it was broken. It was broken, and an employee was fiddling with it, and suddenly it wasn’t broken anymore. “Want to try it?” she asked my daughter. “I just fixed it, and the first time you don’t have to put any tokens in.”

My daughter’s eyes widened as she stepped up to the machine. She moved the control and smacked the button seemingly at random. That claw dropped down and I hated it because it was going to come up empty and my lovely daughter would be disappointed. She’d pout, but she would learn a life lesson, that you rarely win these stupid games, they just take all your tokens.

Except the claw picked up a purple ball and dropped it into the prize chute. My daughter jumped for joy and my heart soared. I loved this game!

The victory was milliseconds old before my son jockeyed into position and fed his precious tokens into the machine. My speech about how these things almost never give you a prize died on my lips as I watched him desperately move the joystick, smack the button, and gaze in horror as the claw picked up a whole bunch of nothing. The tears came and my son retreated behind a chair, frustrated with the injustice of the world. I hated that machine.

My daughter observed her poor brother’s reaction and fed the rest of her tokens into the godforsaken game. She had enough for two tries. The first was unsuccessful, but — oh goodness, tell me it’s true! — on the second attempt my daughter won yet another ball, this one yellow. As she strolled over and handed it to her pouting brother I thought, I love that claw and these toys and every living being on this wonderful planet!

My mood soared until we got home and then it soured. Despite my protests, the kids bounced and dribbled and kicked those balls around the house. They ignored my pleas to keep the balls on the ground, don’t throw them and to play gently. So when one ball bounced across the dining room table and another zoomed close to my head, I put them in my dresser, out of the kids’ reach. My children screamed. Oh, how I hated those toys. Even though I had once loved them, not too long ago.

BILL ZUCK is on an emotional roller coaster. You can reach him at wcz78@yahoo.com.

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